Excerpts from Berlioz’s correspondence

Introduction

This page reproduces in translation excerpts from Berlioz’s correspondence (hereafter CG = Correspondance Générale) which relate to the serialisation of fragments of his Memoirs in the weekly le Monde Illustré between September 1858 and September 1859 . Berlioz had not intended at first to publish his Memoirs in his lifetime (CG no. 2186). As he frankly admits, it was the need for money, to pay for the education of his son, that persuaded him to accept the offer of the editor of le Monde Illustré (CG no. 2291) to publish those fragments that concerned his musical career (CG nos. 2334, 2348). On the other hand he strenuously resisted offers from the editor to sell the entire work, which was reserved for posthumous publication (CG nos. 2325, 2332, 2348). He was aware of the dangers of allowing personal material to be published in his lifetime and anticipated possible criticism (CG no. 2348). At the same time he was evidently pleased with the interest aroused by the publication (CG nos. 2325, 2341, 2345, 2368) and was anxious that his relatives and closest friends be kept informed (his sister Adèle: CG nos. 2325, 2345, 2348; Adolphe Samuel: CG nos. 2186, 2341; Georges Kastner: CG no. 2316; Humbert Ferrand: CG nos. 2327, 2332, 2334, 2368; Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein: CG no. 2351). He received numerous letters prompted by the publication (CG no. 2368), though of these only two have survived (CG nos. 2330, 2367bis); their text is not reproduced here.

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Excerpts from the correspondence

To Eugène de Mirecourt (CG no. 2134; early June 1856):

[…] Please let me know when I can come and collect my Memoirs and have a few moments to talk to you.
I would be very pleased if the volume in your series which concerns me could appear in the near future; I have applied for the vacant seat at the Institut and this occasion would confer on your publication an altogether exceptional importance for me. […]

[Cf. Mémoires, Post-Scriptum, which is addressed to Eugène de Mirecourt though he is not named]

To Adolphe Samuel (CG no. 2186; 25 November 1856):

[…] The Biography you mention [by Eugène de Mirecourt, cf. CG no. 2134 above] is very sympathetic but marred by rather serious errors, inventions on the part of the author, and truths turned into falsehoods by the narrative detail. It seems to be impossible to write anything accurate about anybody’s life. The three volumes of Memoirs that I have completed seem to me to be true in every respect; but it is an autobiography and I will not publish them. […]

To Jules Lecomte, publisher of the Monde Illustré (CG no. 2291; between May and September 1858):

Sir,
You kindly ask me for details on my musical life, details of a more special, or even more personal, kind than the fragment you introduced a few months ago in the Monde Illustré. In 1848 in London I began writing a work which is now completed, which records the innumberable changes in the stormy atmosphere I have lived in until now. It is, to use a nautical metaphor, the log book of my painful journey.
I am sending you the fragments which relate more or less directly to my career as an artist. The rest contains painful episodes relating to feelings of the narrator that are too intimate for them to be suitable for publication today. Thus truncated my narrative will be reticent on many points and will contain numerous gaps. Will your readers be prepared to excuse them?.. I find it hard to believe.
    « Sed si tantus amor casus cognoscere nostros
    « Incipiam
[Virgil, Aeneid II.10]. […]

[Berlioz is referring here to the article he published in le Monde Illustré on 13 February 1858. The first paragraph of this letter was reproduced in le Monde Illustré of 18 September 1858; the second paragraph was omitted there, but added by the publisher as a preface, though in an abridged paraphrase, to the first instalment of the Mémoires d’un musicien on 25 September]

To Georges Kastner (CG no. 2316; 28 September 1858):

[…] The Monde Illustré started publishing yesterday the fragments from my Memoirs. […] Have a look at this; there are things that will interest you. I have been working for the last ten years on polishing the style. It is almost French. […]

To his sister Adèle (CG no. 2325; 22 October 1858):

[…] I am publishing in the Monde Illustré some fragments of my Memoirs. They are having a lot of success; the publisher and printer of this journal wanted to buy from me the whole work to publish it in book form. I obstinately refused. You do not doubt the good reasons I have for persisting in this refusal*. […]
(*) This and everything concerning the Memoirs is always between the two of us. Do not mention it in your letters.

To Humbert Ferrand (CG no. 2327; 3 November 1858):

[…] The Monde Illustré is publishing fragments from my Memoirs, where you are often mentioned. Do you happen to have seen this? […]

Achille Paganini to Berlioz (CG no. 2330; 3 November 1858)

[Achille Paganini is asking Berlioz to set the record straight, in the serialisation of his Memoirs, on his father’s gift to Berlioz in 1838]

To Humbert Ferrand (CG no. 2332; 8 November 1858):

[…] I will be going to the office of the Monde Illustré to have sent to you the issues of the paper which contain the first fragments of my Memoirs; you will receive subsequently the others as they appear. Although I have suppressed the most painful episodes (they will only be known if my son wishes later to publish the whole work as a book), I fear this account will sadden you. But perhaps you would welcome being saddened in this way […]

To Humbert Ferrand (CG no. 2334; 19 November 1858):

[…] I have not published anything about the period you are reminding me of; but I am not writing up my memoirs any more; all this was written between 1848 and 1850, and I am only publishing fragments from it to have a little money for the forthcoming studies that my son will have to pursue in a maritime port, on his return from the Indies. Auri pia fames!
You will see very soon the story of the Francs-Juges in the
Monde Illustré; I could not forget that. […]

To Adolphe Samuel (CG no. 2341; 1 January 1859):

[…] Do you read the Monde Illustré? For the last two months I have been publishing in this paper fragments from my Memoirs which are causing quite a stir here. […]

To Adèle (CG no. 2345; 10 January 1859):

[…] My Memoirs (or those parts of them that I am publishing in the Monde Illustré) are having more and more success, and are being much talked about. […]

To Adèle (CG no. 2348; 23 January 1859):

[…] It is again this reason [i.e. the need for money] which made me yield to the entreaties of the publisher of the Monde Illustré for the publication of the fragments of my Memoirs. I anticipate having expenses for Louis when he is back, and a thousand francs extra income will come in very handy. But I am not taking off my clothes in public (as you say) since they only deal with my musical life and those events and incidents that relate to it. I can understand your feelings, but you are only exaggerating them.
The publisher of the Monde wanted to buy from me the complete Memoirs, to publish them in two volumes; I refused and will always refuse this publication, which Louis will have to do at a later date.
[…]

To Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein (CG no. 2351; 8 February 1859):

[…] You should have received several days ago a parcel of copies of the Monde Illustré. Following your wish I took out a subscription for you for 9 months, starting at the time when this paper began to publish the fragments from my Memoirs. There is also the issue of February [1858], which contains the story of the 1844 Festival, which I added to the parcel. It will find its proper place later on, when the thread of my narrative will have brought me to this period. Your kindness is beyond compare and indefatigable! You show interest in these truncated stories from my young days, which are now the old days!! […]

[See le Monde Illustré of 13 February 1858]

To Richard Pohl (CG no. 2355; 19 February 1859):

[…] Concerning the chapters of my Memoirs which you would like to translate I will give you the following answer: wait until everything that is to appear is out, and then identify the chapters you would like to translate, and tell me in what way you want to publish them; I will then give you my answer. […]

[This project did not materialise; cf. further CG nos. 2664, 2768]

Alcide-Joseph Lorentz to Berlioz (CG no. 2367bis [vol. VIII]; 18 April 1859):

[An admiring letter from a long-time supporter of Berlioz, prompted by the account of the first performance of the Requiem which appeared in le Monde Illustré on 9 April 1859]

To Humbert Ferrand (CG no. 2368; 28 April 1859):

[…] Forgive me, I had totally forgotten that you had not been receiving the Monde Illustré for several months. So you must have taken out a subscription, since you are still reading it?.. If not, let me know, and I will see to it that you get the numbers you do not have and receive the instalments regularly. This costs very little, do not worry. The latest issues contain the story (much watered-down) of the crime perpetrated on my by Cavé and Habeneck, on the occasion of the first performance of my Requiem. This is causing quite a stir. I frequently receive letters in prose or in verse from my unknown friends. This is a consolation. […]

The Hector Berlioz Website was created by Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin on 18 July 1997;
Page Hector Berlioz: Mémoires d’un musicien created on 15 January 2010; this page created on 15 January 2010.

© Monir Tayeb and Michel. All rights reserved.

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